Brand Strategy

Trust: the currency of brand strategy

by Shachar Meron


With corporate skepticism at an all-time high, trust may soon become the most valuable attribute of a business and its brand strategy. The next generation of CMOs must learn to communicate trust by earning it first.

Trust has always been central to the concept of a brand: if I’m going to spend money and time on your product, I expect a certain benefit and experience in return. At its simplest, the word “brand” itself is often defined as “a promise.”

But now we’re seeing this on a whole new level. People today have multilayered relationships with brands, often involving heavy issues like privacy, security, access and ownership. This is especially true in sectors like finance and technology, where personal data is particularly sensitive and valuable. 

So trust is in high demand. But it’s also in short supply, with people increasingly skeptical of corporate behavior—some more than others. “The financial services sector has returned to record-high levels of trust inequality,” according, to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer: Financial Services report.

If you business depends on a strong relationship with your customer or user, here are some trends we’re seeing plus a few tips on working trust into your own brand.

Trust Trend #1: exchanging personal data for better brand experiences will decline.

Today, customers are willing to share their information if it results in a better service. Much of the digital economy is built on this exchange and understanding. Entire companies stake their fortunes and futures to it. 

And it may be fleeting.

“The answer to the question, ‘I trust this brand with my data,’ shows a staggering range of results from 14 to 65 percent,” according to this Lippencott piece on CMO trends. With occasional security breaches and unethical practices popping up in the news, this range doesn’t look to be increasing.

On top of shifting public opinion, the legal winds are blowing toward privacy too. If your business operates in the U.S. and needs to collect data from users, consider how a law like Europe’s GDPR impact you. For some, it may be a footnote; for others, an existential threat.

Trust Trend #2: measuring trust is increasingly important to brand strategy.

It’s one thing to say trust is important. But if it’s to become a part of strategy, there needs to be a way of measuring it—especially if you need to eventually invest in it.

There’s a few ways to evaluate trust. Edelman has been studying it for decades, and more recently created the Trust Barometer to gauge values and trends at an industrywide level. 

Others take a different approach: laying out the costs of losing trust, which for many companies may be fatal. Per Lippencott: “Lose it and you lose access to personal data…and you’re no longer relevant in a world where interruptive marketing no longer works. In other words, trust will be the difference between making money and not.”

How do you measure trust in your own business? Is it a part of your brand equity? Once you have a way to properly value it, you can apply strategy and resources to grow it.

Trust Trend #3: trust is best communicated through a third party—especially in B2B.

Word of mouth has always ranked among the most effective ways to promote a brand. What’s different now is our ability to measure, leverage and scale it. And not a moment too soon.

In a Forbes article citing a Forrester study, “59% of B2B buyers prefer to do research online instead of interacting with a sales rep because they feel reps push their own sales agendas.” A similar TrustRadius study found business-provided sources of information were ranked as least trustworthy by buyers.

(This overlaps with a generational shift, where trends show “Millennials put their faith in user-generated content and their own personal networks.”)

The good news for marketers: if you have a genuinely good company and product, it’s not an either-or. Adding customer reviews to your marketing and sales materials, empowering brand ambassadors, rewarding social sharing, making community engagement a pillar of brand strategy—when these worlds come together, everyone wins.

Putting trust at the heart of your brand strategy for real

If you’re looking to make trust a more central attribute of your brand, here are some parting tips:

  • Don’t ever use the phrase “trust me/us.” (If someone says that you, run in the opposite direction.) Demonstrate trust first with actions—a record of treating customers and employees well, behaving as a responsible corporate citizen—and your communications are halfway written.
  • Relatedly, claiming “integrity” is table stakes. What does it mean? It can’t just be “we don’t lie or steal,” that’s a pretty low bar. Show how you demonstrate integrity on a daily basis in hiring, training, process, culture, etc.
  • Trust involves both capability and character. They want to trust the quality of your offering—often the #1 reason why people trust brands—and the ethics of your behavior. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
  • Leverage third-party content carefully. It needs to be based on authentic fans: if you solicit positive reviews or social sharing too hard (e.g. too much direction or compensation), it loses its value as an impartial source.

Trust is invaluable to a brand. Its impact can be seen, felt, measured, cultivated, leveraged—or ignored at your own risk. 

If you need more help, let’s talk about how trust can be deepened in your own brand.

Brand Strategy

by Shachar Meron


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